Schools in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state have reopened amid a government shutdown, but parents who fear for their children’s safety are choosing to keep them at home.
On Aug. 4 the Indian government dissolved Kashmir’s consitution, flag, and self-governing status, which was granted in 1957 to ease tensions with neighboring Pakistan. Thousands of troops were deployed, internet access was cut off, and schools were shut down. After two weeks, 190 government schools opened their doors on Monday in Srinagar, the state’s largest city, according to Reuters.
Private schools, markets, and shops remain closed in the city, and transportation services haven’t resumed. With cellular networks still down, parents are hesitant to send their children back to class without being able to ensure their safety.
Kashmir is India’s only Muslim-majority state and home to 12.5 million people. The state has been a long source of tension and the move to revoke its autonomy comes as violence against Muslims is on the rise in India.
Minors have been arrested in the last two weeks and several children were injured in clashes, Gulzar Ahmad, a father of two children enrolled in a school in Srinagar’s Batamaloo district, where protests have occurred, told Reuters. Ahmad said he is concerned about who will protect his children at school.
Authorities have denied reports of mass arrests but at least two dozen people were injured in Srinagar on Saturday night. Indian troops reportedly used teargas, chili grenades, and pellets to handle clashes with protestors opposing the government’s decision, according to the Guardian.
Parents told Reuters and BBC correspondents that until they can be in contact with their children or school staff in case of an emergency, their children will stay at home. The government began partially restoring landline connectivity over the weekend, but mobile networks and the internet were left disconnected as more protests were reported, according to the BBC.
Teachers have voiced similar concerns about having children continue learning under such dangerous conditions.
When schools re-opened on Monday, despite young protestors blocking traffic in several Srinagar neighborhoods, no one witnessed any major problems, Deputy Inspector General of Police, VK Birdi told Al Jazeera. While stone-throwing occurred, law enforcement stepped in, Bridi said.
"The situation is slowly returning to normal,” he added.
Some Srinagar residents claim the government wants to create the illusion of normalcy in the media, by documenting children going back to school, according to Al Jazeera. At one state-run Kendriya Vidyalaya school, most of the students who went back on Monday are children of defense personnel and have protection, one school official said.
Although 190 schools were set to reopen, a number of them remained locked or lightly staffed on Monday, according to Reuters. During a news conference in Srinagar, Syed Sehrish Asgar from the region’s information department reported 30% to 50% of school staff showed up.
Officials said they are unsure how many students returned to class on Monday in total, as the blackout has made reporting a challenge.